9 November 2012

Namibia: Nantu, Teachers and the Strike, a Communication Problematic!


Addressing the striking teachers at the Khomasdal Stadium on Tuesday, Khomadal North Constituency Councillor, Margaret Mensah-Williams could not help but observe: "Communication is an important tool to solve the problem."

It is not clear whether the councillor was referring to the problem at hand, if by any means it needs to be called a problem. Because if anything the problem is not so much the striking teachers, or the legality or illegality of their industrial action.

But the problem seems to be the proliferation of those bidding to persuade teachers to go back to their duty stations, all of whom seem to be working at cross purposes and not through a meaningful concerted effort. Not only this but the lack of constructive engagement of the teachers does not seem to help the situation in any way.

Either a lack of communication, miscommunication and/or a misdirection of communication. For any communication to be effective, the message being communicated must first be right and authentic but must be clear, and most importantly must originate from the right or proper source.

And must equally be directed towards the right recipient. In the matter at hand, there is no doubt that the message has been directed to the right receiver, the striking teachers. But there is still a missing link, the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu). In the unfolding matter it is not clear what message has been directed to Nantu and by whom?

Another faulty link in the configuration is not only the myriad of senders of the message, directed to the teachers but not to Nantu.

It becomes doubtful whether as much as the message has been clear, that teachers should return to school, whether at this stage this is the correct message?

This is as much as it is everyone's wish that teachers return to class for the sake of the children. But such a wish has seemed devoid of a realisation, let alone a pretended realisation of the harsh realities the teachers have been facing, which is the driving force behind the action they have resorted to. In this regard teachers seem to think that there is little or no respect and sympathy for their grievances. In such an atmosphere there can thus be little room for mutual understanding and trust. And as much for meaningful communication.

Hence the opportunity for communication as a tool to solve a problem that the Honourable Mensah-Williams has referred to, is lost.

The right and direct source of any message regarding the strike should, ordinarily have been Nantu. Likewise, the right and legitimate recipient, its members, are the teachers, who should be directing the union every step of the way during the negotiations. However, since the beginning of the industrial action, it has not been obvious to what extent the union has been communicating with its members.

On the contrary the union's communication with its members, especially through the necessary structures, seems to have broken down, that is if it ever has been in existence at all. Thus one cannot but come to this conclusion having seen different actors and pseudo-actors hurrying, trampling, stumbling and mumbling to try and communicate with the striking teachers.

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso), the Swapo Party of Namibia, Nantu and heaven knows, who and what else, have variously been trying to communicate, or rather been mis-communicating with the teachers.

Add onto these the court verdict, and in its own communication lingua, but equally to no avail. Not to mention the efforts of the Namibian Police who have been largely restrained in their actions. And lately the efforts of the Honourable Mensah-Williams.

And lest one forgets, unionists like Evalistus Kaaronda and Mahongora Kavihuha's shuttles to and from the striking teachers.

Given that teachers have continued with their action, one wonders whether they are the only ones who seem to be effectively communicating with the teachers?

But why do the other players seemingly and probably not seem effective in their communications with the teachers? Not even Nantu? The answer lies in the postures and attitudes of various would-be arbitrators-conciliators-communicators.

One source of miscommunication or failure to communicate effectively seems in the blatant lack of appreciation and understanding by some that the teachers may have understandable, justifiable and/or legitimate grievances or demands. When one postures self against someone's cause, to the extent of even scorning such a cause by applying such adjectives as "illegal", as the case may be in the ongoing teachers' strike, one does not cultivate the necessary ground for effective communication. As much engineering an amicable solution becomes close to impossible.

Strangely, in all the communication attempts with the teachers, Nantu's national leadership have seemed conspicuously absent, and bewilderingly and worryingly silent. This does not help the situation at all, neither does it augur well for the ongoing negotiations. More than elsewhere, in this hour Nantu should have been at the forefront of the demands of its members, acting as their voice as well their intermediary with the Government. Especially in efforts to broker a solution, assuring them of the good faith of the said negotiations, which seems all what the teachers are looking for. Instead the best that the union seems to have done, is to distance itself from its own members. Has this attitude of Nantu not been tantamount to cutting its nose to spite its face?

The Right Honourable Prime Minister Nahas Angula's explanation in the New Era on Wednesday should for all intents and purposes have put the matter to bed. The PM is on record that "the government concluded salary negotiations and other conditions of service and benefits with the unions," last year.

However, some issues have been outstanding subject to their proper investigation and study. One wonders, is this what has been difficult for Nantu, and all its proxy communicators, to communicate to its members? Or has this information been only privy to the PM and the government and not Nantu that represents, or is supposedly representing teachers?

Definitely, something somewhere is amiss and this cannot per se be in the industrial action that the teachers are taking! Unless what the PM shared with the nation is non-existent or have been non-existent.

But if what he is saying is truthful, one wonders why teachers have chosen to engage in this latest action?

But "Teachers claim that bargaining agents in the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) and government negotiators have refused to brief them, apart from making occasional vague pronouncements that progress is being made," reads a passage from an article this week in one of the dailies. Does this not speak true of Mensah-Williams' observation of communication being a problematic in this matter?

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